By: Dr. Phyllis Hudson-Bivins
April offers plenty of opportunities for national and international celebrations.
These include the Day of Silence, Earth Day, World Malaria Day, Arbor Day, World Autism Acceptance Day, Independent Bookstore Day, National Parks Week, Poetry Month, and the most important for me, National African-American Women’s Fitness Month. The latter is where I will be spending my focus for the month of April.
Like any celebration, National African-American Women’s Fitness Month aims to raise awareness about ways to be proactive around significant health issues that seem to affect us more than any other ethnicity.
Let’s dive in on this one. First of all, let’s be clear for anyone who may not know, according to the American Heart Association, half, yes, I said half of all African-American women in the United States have some form of cardiovascular disease.
That’s a staggering figure. In fact, according to the March of Dimes, as of March 31, 2023, as Black women, we make up only 14% of the US population, and if half of us have some form of cardiovascular disease, that means 7% of us fall into that category.
That is a scary number. And to add insult to injury, those of us in that 7% are more likely to expire from heart-related problems than women of any other ethnicity.
This is important; therefore, I am going to spend some time discussing this issue, hoping that someone out there will make a change and perhaps save her own life, including me checking in on my own status.
So, let’s talk about the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease in African-American women. These factors include what I’m calling the Big Four: high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and smoking. These conditions stem mainly from physical inactivity on our part. But chronic stress is another factor that plays a role in our declining health.
And where does that stress stem from? Believe it or not, there is a direct correlation between stress in African American women and sexism and discrimination in our homes and workplaces.
Then, in some facets of our culture, our women are expected to stay home and raise the children when possible. While this is a noble gesture, it is another culprit because it leads to inactivity. And because everything is cyclical, these factors increase our chances of becoming hypertensive and obese, which can lead to heart issues.
If that isn’t enough to think about, in many of our family dynamics, the food choices made tend to be those of cheaper, less healthy foods due to economic conditions. Over time, these food choices wreak havoc on our health.
But there is some excellent news! We can beat the Big Four by incorporating the following five exercises into our routines.
These exercises will help reduce heart problems; best of all, it’s never too late to start.
- Practice Balancing Exercises. These can be done through Yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi. The benefits are tremendous and include the strengthening of leg muscles and the improvement of your balance. This exercise is essential for women who are aging. However, other factors affect our balance or equilibrium, which has no age requirement. These are inner-ear conditions or even diabetes. But these are not the only factors.
- Practice Flexibility and Balancing Exercises. Believe it or not, that simple stretch we do in the morning or upon standing after sitting for a while is helpful. Stretching exercises help improve our flexibility, but it also helps prevent joint pain and cramping. And a bonus is that it can lower blood pressure for those of us who are hypertensive.
- Practice Strength Resistance Exercises. While we must be careful about working with weights, especially if we are older women, weight work and pushups can help reduce fat and can work toward leaner muscle mass.
- Practice Full-Body Sports Exercises. These exercises include swimming, cycling, and tennis because they require us to engage our arms and legs. But what if you aren’t a swimmer, don’t play tennis, or don’t cycle? Well, I don’t do either. However, I dance daily, which is how I meet my 10,000 steps-a-day goal. And yes, dancing is a whole-body workout. I enjoy it, and it’s fun. It’s also good for your heart, strengthens, and supports balance and coordination. The bonus? A 30-minute dance session can burn 130-250 calories, which is about the same as jogging. I know this to be true because I read it on my Fitbit daily! So get to it.
- Practice Aerobics Exercises. Several benefits come from this practice. When we run or engage in cardio workouts and pushups, we are helping ourselves improve blood circulation, reduce the risk of diabetes and increase our overall fitness.
Taking care of ourselves is essential for many reasons. Among the two most important reasons is that we must incorporate self-care into our lives if we plan to be around for years to come, and for those of us who have children, especially our daughters, we must set examples for them to follow.
When we do that, we break the cycle of poor past behaviors. In turn, our daughters will pass these positive practices on to their children.
So, if you want to observe National African-American Women’s Fitness Month positively, become an example by participating in exercise, visiting a gym, spreading the word, and sharing your experiences.
Until next time, keep flying on your own wings.